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Isn’t it a British saying: Spare the rod and spoil the child?

January 30, 2012

Yesterday morning I scrolled through the  Sunday papers on my phone and came across the following article that naturally had to be shared with my social network:

Thinking it was a flash in the pan, I moved on. It seemed fair enough; many parents had commented publically in post riot vox-pops about their fear of controlling their children with physical contact. It was an issue also raised by Hackney heroine herself, Pauline Pearce.

Instead, this story really got people talking. Social services are probably talking to David Lammy as we speak – he confessed to slapping his kids when they act out of line in his article.

Politically, I think Britain has a strange relationship with child-rearing and punishment. Struggling to banish the memories of school boys in short trousers being called to the front of a drafty Victorian classroom to be spanked hard on the arse for some petty misdemeanor with a cane, British politicians have sought to banish the idea inflicting pain on a child is of benefit to discipline.

Old school

Britain seemed happier to push the ideal of childhood, the idea of innocence. The programme, ‘Every Child Matters’ wasn’t about delivering any real goals, it was about tailoring a childhood designed to meet the needs of every child, not matter how intelligent, how thick, how poor or how naughty.

However, since this discourse has been pushed, we have managed to produce some of the most undisciplined children on the planet –  if tales from inner city comprehensives are to be believed. I think our youth get a bad rep, but I do I think there is some truth in the idea that our young people are finding it easier to be led astray then ever before.

The argument for smacking  has been two fold, emcompassing culture and class. The cultural argument is that people from nations where young people are expected to show respect to their elders, countries in Africa, the Caribbean, East and Southern Asia (heck, everywhere except here really), it is thought right to smack a child to assert authority.

It is also thought right to smack a child to protect one from danger or bad choices. I’ll never forget the beating I got because I thought it would be a fun game to walk to primary school taking pigeon steps on the kerbside of a busy road.  Or the time my Mum left me and my brother in shopping centre on the proviso we didn’t separate and come home together. I came alone. My brother arrived two hours later, and he got the slipper treatment too.

It is argued working class children face more opportunities for high jinx and parents need to be able to call on a good old fashioned slap for times a talking too won’t do.

I couldn’t agree more with the cultural argument. We don’t have a background of smacking children routinely because we enjoy it, most disciplined nations smack children in circumstances where a good stinging smack is called for. It’s important to distinguish between corporal punishment and disciplining.

I’m not sure about the class one. Every time I see some teenager in the Daily Mail who makes the news because they have OD’d its normally a posh one with rich parents – how else could they afford class A drugs? Middle class kids get up to terrible things too.

The main argument against is the obvious one: smacking is tantamount to child abuse.

I disagree wholeheartedly.

I think that the differences between child abuse and child disciplining are extremely wide and obvious and cannot think of one circumstance in which the lines are blurred. Some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of using pain to teach a child. Some parents are not. The key is to understand that as a parent, you know what’s best for your child. Society certainly knows the difference between a smack and abuse and if it doesn’t – then something is wrong.

David Lammy was right to use the riots as an opportunity to put this back on the agenda. A law that says a parent has smacked their child too hard if the skin reddens is crazy – my skin doesn’t even go red when I get a rash. For the law to say a black child can be beaten more than a white child is surely racist and wrong*.

If we have children that aren’t even afraid of the police, then how are words and naughty steps going to keep them on the straight and narrow?

Young people these days  really know their rights. This is a good thing. But they also need to know and understand respect for the rights of parents and elders to discipline them too. I’m glad young people are hearing a debate about how we can control them a bit, rather than let them run free, for a change.

*this is a joke.

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